By Maria Tsvetkova and Pavel Polityuk
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s party took a commanding lead in Sunday’s snap parliamentary election, handing the novice politician a broader mandate for driving change and tackling corruption in the war-scarred nation.
A comedian with no prior policymaking experience, Zelenskiy gained fame playing a schoolteacher who becomes president in a TV comedy. He won a landslide victory in a presidential vote in April, running as an outsider who would tackle corruption and raise living standards in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The 41-year-old has had to deal with a cabinet and lawmakers who are mostly loyal to his predecessor Petro Poroshenko, prompting him to announce on the day of his inauguration a snap election to win a mandate in parliament.
Exit polls showed his Servant of the People party far ahead of its nearest challenger, although possibly short of a majority. The Russian-friendly Opposition Platform was placed in a distant second place, followed by Poroshenko’s party and that of a former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
The Voice party, fronted by another newcomer to politics, rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, was fifth.
A triumphant Zelenskiy said he would invite Voice for coalition talks. Vakarchuk’s pro-Western party said it was open to an alliance with new political forces so long as they were not backed by oligarchs.
The election gives Zelenskiy a firmer grip on a country at the centre of a dispute between Moscow and the West that arose from Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 support for separatist rebels in the east.
The new government will also need to implement reforms agreed with international donors to secure billions of dollars of new loans to keep the economy stable.
Zelenskiy, after casting his ballot in north Kiev, said he would decide on coalition options after results were known.
“(But) Honestly, we don’t see a coalition with anyone from the old leadership,” he said.
He wanted a professional economist as prime minister and said he was holding consultations with a possible candidate he did not identify. “I would like him to be an absolutely independent person, who has never been either a prime minister or a speaker or a leader of any faction.”
Beyond his everyman image, Zelenskiy has faced scrutiny over his business connections to one of Ukraine’s most powerful tycoons, Ihor Kolomoisky, owner of the TV station that brought Zelenskiy fame. Zelenskiy insists he is not beholden to Kolomoisky and will not take his side in a dispute with the state over control of Ukraine’s biggest bank.
Zelenskiy will seek a new aid-for-reforms programme with the International Monetary Fund and has promised crowd-pleasing anti-corruption measures, such as stripping lawmakers of immunity from prosecution.
Often tie-less and speaking to voters through social media videos, Zelenskiy has carried his informal style from the campaign trail into the presidency.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Maria Tsvetkova, Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets; Margaryta Chornokondratenko and Natalia Lutsenko; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)